Negotiations Between Striking Hollywood Writers, Studios May Restart Next Week

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Striking Hollywood writers could begin informal talks with studio chiefs as early as next week in an effort to end a two-month walkout that has hobbled the entertainment industry, according to a person familiar with the bargaining strategy of the writers union.

Word of the possible break in the stalemate came Friday, a day after the Directors Guild of America announced a tentative contract deal, and studio heads urged the Writers Guild of America to join in talks that could lead to the resumption of formal negotiations that broke off Dec. 7.

The Writers Guild is prepared to sit down with executives such as Robert Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Co., who participated in similar informal talks with directors, said the person who was not authorized to publicly comment and asked for anonymity.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios, said it had no comment on the possible start of informal talks.

In its tentative deal with producers, the Directors Guild resolved new-media compensation issues that are also central to the Writers Guild dispute, including compensation for movie and TV projects delivered over the Internet.

In a joint statement Thursday, top executives from eight major companies, including Fox, Paramount Pictures, The Walt Disney Co., CBS Corp., Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros., MGM and NBC Universal called on the Writers Guild to join in the kind of informal talks that preceded the directors' negotiations.

The executives said the deal with directors established a precedent for the industry's creative talent to "participate financially in every emerging area of new media."

Officials at the Writers Guild were waiting to receive a copy of the directors' tentative pact and evaluate how it fits in with what writers are seeking.

The agreement gives the directors union jurisdiction over programs produced for distribution on the Internet. It also provides for residuals paid on a percentage of distributors' gross — also a key Writers Guild proposal.

"I think the DGA deal is good. Very good. For writers, for directors, for the future," writer-producer John Wells, whose credits include "ER" and "The West Wing," said in a letter posted online.

Some out-of-work writers said they were heartened by the directors' pact. But they tempered their optimism about a possible end to the walkout by writers, which has halted work on dozens of TV shows, has disrupted movie production, turned the usually star-studded Golden Globes show into a mundane news conference and has threatened the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony.

Screenwriter David Garrett said new-media elements of the directors' deal appeared to reflect at least some of what the Writers Guild is seeking.

"I think it's important the producers have acknowledged the unions need jurisdiction over the Internet," Garrett said. "There can't be any argument about that when they come back (to talks) with the Writers Guild. Then the amounts can be negotiated."

The deal might jump-start formal negotiations, writer Steven L. Sears said.

"Everybody is hoping it's a great deal and will help bring the producers back to the table," he said as he walked a picket line with about 40 other people outside NBC studios in Burbank.

Still, he said the majority of Directors Guild members don't face the same contract issues that are key for writers.

Negotiations broke down after the studio alliance demanded the Writers Guild take unionization of reality and animation shows and other issues off the table.

In Utah, Robert Redford told The Associated Press that an agreement between studios and writers could be imminent.

"Once you see one element of the talent side settling, it's only a question of time before it will all fall in that direction, so I would imagine that it's a sign that the strike won't last too long," Redford said at his Sundance Film Festival.

Meanwhile, a fund to help workers who are not part of the Writers Guild but face financial hardship because of the strike has been established, the guild said. The fund will provide emergency assistance for food, housing and other expenses.